75 Years of Army Aviation / By Mark Albertson: November 8, 1942, American troops stormed ashore at Safi, Casablanca and Port Lyautey. The Allied invasion of French northwest Africa was on: the first concerted land action by the Western Allies against the Axis in the European Theater of Operations; and, which also marked the combat debut of the Air Observation Post concept.
The following day, November 9, Captain Ford “Ace” Allcorn would lead three other Army Aviators into action.
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LT William A. Butler, Jr. and CPT Brendon A. Devol, Jr. prepare to take off. / ALL PHOTOS WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, PUBLIC DOMAIN
Sixty miles offshore, USS Ranger (CV-4) turned into the wind. The flattop was plowing the Atlantic at 25 knots. Captain Allcorn was in the lead plane; followed by Lieutenants William A. Butler, Jr. and John R. Shell. Riding shotgun for Lieutenant Butler was Captain Brendon A. Devol, Jr.
Bluejackets seized the tail of Allcorn’s Cub. The aviator revved the Continental power plant. The tars let go. The Cub shot forward, into the teeth of a 35-knot blow. “I was in the air almost as soon as they let go,” said Allcorn.
Allcorn circled the flattop until Butler and Shell joined up. The trio then pointed their noses towards the coast, flying in an echelon right formation. Altitude: 2,000 feet. The flight was uneventful . . . that is, until three miles from the beach. The aviators took on an echelon left formation. Suddenly, USS Brooklyn (CL-40) began blinking like a Christmas Tree. A 5-inch 38-caliber nearly took out Lieutenant Shell, bursting in the wake of his lumbering Cub.
Allcorn and his wing mates dived for the deck. Other ships in the invasion force opened up. Tracers whizzed round the Cubs like angry bees. Flak puffs blossomed like flowers. Allcorn wave hopped towards the beach. Around him, bullets splashed. A forest of geysers rose and fell.
USS Ranger (CV-4), 8 May 1938
About a hundred yards from the breaking surf, Allcorn brought the Cub round hard and raced along the beach. Machine gunners from the 2nd Armored Division bracketed the intruder. The Cub’s windscreen exploded, peppering Allcorn with shards of glass. Smoke belched from the cowling, trailing off into the slipstream.
Vichy machine guns joined the raucous cacophony. French slugs chewed the wings, underside and fuselage. Pain shot up Allcorn’s right side, as bullets tore into his leg. The beleaguered aviator spied a patch of ground, coaxed the mortally wounded Cub in and pancaked in a rush of broken gear, snapping struts and shredded fabric. He hauled himself from out of the wreck, then dragged himself clear as the L-4 tore itself to bits in a paroxysm of smoke and flame.
Meanwhile Butler and Shell had set down near Vichy lines and were taken prisoner. They were soon released and rejoined friendly forces. Allcorn was helped by civilians to American lines. The gallant aviator paid a hefty price for his brief passage in the history books: The first Army Aviator to fly off a carrier; the first in combat; the first shot down; and the first to be wounded.
Mark Albertson is the award winning historian for Army Aviation Publications, Inc.